Clancy of Lao: impressions

First things first, what follows are just impressions from one Aussie in a few weeks in Lao. Like that great Australian poem written by a talented drunkard Banjo Patterson, Clancy of the Overflow, they are written With a thumb nail dipped in tar And clancy’s gone droven and We don’t know where he are. Actually I’m in Ventiane, but it is a big place compared to the other places we have been and I get lost easy. Particularly “droven”.

I have written before of the historic sandwich this country finds itself in, the utter devastation rained down by the Americans aided by their close allies such as Australia. And the French before this, the Japanese in between and historically the Thais, Burmese and Vietnamese. That is a lot for a little country to be sandwiched into. No wonder Lao is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Sadly, it would appear their government is beset by ideological, sexual (old blokes abound) and cultural limitations. This remains a communist totalitarian, centralised (although there have been recent moves to decentralise in the last couple of years), backward looking, fear racked military dominant system- now that’s a lot characteristics for a small nation.

Recent market based practices, including joining the WTO, give some comfort.

There are some indications of unrest with the current government system and players- some violent, most passive. Symbols of startling priority mix ups are the huge and resplendent “president’s palace”, a major contradiction in a poor communist country and their version of the Arc de Triomphe. There are some delicious ironies in the latter. It is a just little bigger than the French original and was built with concrete gifted by America for a runway.

Today I visit three museums in Vientiane. What Joy!

1) the National Museum
2) the Army Museum
3) the Police Museum (housed in a building second to the old Pres’ digs). This has been rebadged People’s Security Museum- a bit like our border security. Comfort generated by aggressive branding, actually stoking fear and thereby creating the case for more security. A closed circle of self-perpetuation.

Many traveller’s criticise these museums for their basic layouts and jingoistic feel. I think these very same features are part of the charm and tell their own story.

There is a strong similarity (naturally) with Vietnam’s Museums. Tortured and downright hilarious English abounds, but at least an effort is made. Great victories are celebrated in minute detail in individual battles with foreign, imperialist, fascist and facile forces. If history is written by the victors, here it writ large, and with (I think) a local audience in mind. The message: We have thrown out inferior governments with superior weapons by close cooperation (note ideology). Let’s use the same in the future. There are bad things out there. Trust us. Not much different to the Yanks: “In God we trust”. Here you substitute God with Party. Marx’s religion is the opium of the people, applies equally to one state dogma.

This is a country that has lived (survived!) very serious conflict.

I am surprised to see artifacts of the war with “the extreme rightest Thai army” in 1980. This is new to me. A little delicate digging and I find a few details. This is not easy as there is some suspicion of falangs (us whities). With some justification I swiftly add. Uniforms abound in these places. I find one-on-one, out of earshot and view, leadng with sincere questions, indicating some knowledge and demonstrating sympathy/support to the Lao people works well.

I learn:

– this was a border dispute, not surprisingly set up by a corrupt self serving colonial (French) legacy of poor border definition
-it started with Thais invading Lao
– it was no small deal
– at least a thousand people were killed
– the Americans supported the Thais and the Vietnamese (maybe Chinese??) supported the Lao’s. This could have been soo much bigger.
– the Thais got flogged. They were poorly trained and led. Some commentators believe that despite great pomp, sabre rattling and internal muscle flexing, this remains the case. Too many old men with their fingers in the wrong places and snouts deeply in troughs that are not theirs to gorge.
-a treaty was swiftly arranged when the emboldened (and I feel supported??) Lao army contemplated taking a chunk of Thailand
-a strong army, “People’s Security”, Vietnam and membership of ASEAN are part of the defence strategy for Lao

I meet a delightful policeman in full kit at their museum.

For some reason, I am in this giant palace all by myself- not accounting for twenty armed and bored looking officers. I try not to be paranoid as my new friend stood very very close beside me throughout the three stories of displays. We strike up an interesting conversation, I think assisted by demonstrating my police bona fides.

I learn:

– ice is a problem
– opium has reduced
– illegal logging and gold mining is a worry
– organised crime is a China problem. Not so here! I am sceptical of the claim
-terrorism doesn’t exist, but “we” are fighting “insurgents”. These turn out to be local terrorists who, true to the moniker, are blowing up stuff and generally being a little unreasonable
-these same dudes are supported by mysterious outsiders
– I learn elsewhere the insurgents include the Hmong people, and like Myanmar there is serious suppression of some of the minorities, threat of a civil war, great secrecy in the operations and this is a definite no go zone for Falangs physically and conversationally.
-the Lao people are prepared for the “others”
– the top three ranks (all old blokes) have separate/distinct tailored shoes to designate importance and rank because this is very important

I roll the dice and ask: who are you most fearful of?

This brings forth sudden confusion of English to Lao meaning where thus far none existed.

Awkward. A moment. Tension.

On exit my genial host suggests that he is not experienced with foreigners and Next time I (great emphasis) would like to ask you (great emphasis) the questions.

I welcome the enquiry, countering: Please feel free to ask what you like. There is a wonderful haunting hanging moment of silence. I suspect my host is uncomfortable- I’m damn sure I am. He gathers himself and proffers: What is your name?

We exchange first names, shake hands (across times and cultures). I think it is prudent I leave.

I am sure to provide a reasonable donation in the box provided at the exit.

(Aka- not the gun, the power of the pen- Clancy)

Vang Vieng tubing

How old is too old?

Today we tubed.

The average tubing age was closer to twenty than thirty. There were two outliers. Us.

At the start, there is a long laborious process of registration where each prospective tuber signs away their life. Each individual receives an indelible brand of the number and swimming ability on the wrist. We think this is to identify the bodies and exonerate the provider.

A bumpy travel in a crowded tuk tuk up stream awaits. A pack of marked invaders, backed by coloured tubes, transported to journey start.

We pay a huge rate, part of which is an exorbitant deposit for tube return that pays no relation to the inflated rubber. We are previously advised to avoid sharks who claim tubes to get the deposit.

The group we initially travel with (10) seem both previously bonded and condescendly bemused as to why these senior citizens would embark upon such an oddessy. Little passes in the form of social glue with our new tribe. We feel uncomfortably exotic and ostracised (“this is no place for you”). No problem we, with tube support, launch ourselves, albeit less nimbly than our pack into a freezing river journeying downstream. This is cold. I’m sure the experience is not age related.

Our intent is not to exemplify our age or prove we too can do this, but to have a good time.

The first bar we are pulled into, indicates that our newest community has no such predispositions. We are joined by 19 and 20 year olds curious as to our orientation: a pair of Swiss, a couple of English (from Bristol) ;and a triplet of Canadians. It is hard not to be “exhibit A”, a contrast to preconceptions of their own parents and their friends.

We engage in a world view conversation, supported by frequent beers and slushies. We are advised earlier that the Swiss only stayed as long as they did in the first bar due to: “you guys”. Seems we are exotic. After more slushies and beer, we four initiated tribal members agree to forge our path to the next den of iniquity. My travel companion is not convinced and suggests we have imbibed the spirits and invader culture sufficient for “senior travellers”.

Onward we forge, one keen, the other uncertain. Our new tribe is 19 and 22.

Pulled by a spiders web of intrigue and intent we touch earth with the second bar. My travel companion falters into the river. Our new tribe alert to the “Nanna factor” rush forth concerned about broken hips. I am slow to respond, doubled over by laughter. Seems compassion is all one way in the partnership.

Trudging onward we approach more deafening duff duff music, much water (a hose sprays the entire bar area), more scantily clad bodies and a “basketball court” that wouldn’t pass muster in a 1950’s outback work camp. My travel companion retreats to water and relative muffled peace. I role the dice.

I am subsequently invited, not because of solitude but obvious physical difference, into the bear pit. “We are all Australians, everyone is Australian” a group of Italians shout in unison, when asked my roots. At which all 20 of us become one, are showered with water and begin to jump in unison like an English soccer crowed. Pleased by the inclusion, compromised by the patronisation and hobbled by inferior legs, I stagger whilst my new tribe leaps.

After, what I consider the suitable convention of time, pleased I seem to have past another initiation ceremony, I beg my leave and rejoin my H2O imbibing partner.

We are approached by Belgium TV, who are doing a documentary to do an interview. Seems we are rather as exotic to the media as our tribe. Interview conducted. Essentially it goes: Why are You Here? How does someone like YouFind it?” I answer, incredulously, Like everyone else. The interviewer appears shocked, I beg my leave, suggesting I need another beer, tempted to add it was time for a nap.

My new tribe seem more impressed than warrants. Being patronised by those of a gap of 3+ decades is like being told to eat your greens by a toddler.

Like a Phoenix, my travel companion sparks up and asks for a sip of my beer. I am pleased by the reengagement and sceptical by of the impending re- immersion into the watery grave (for those young people before us).

My companion then alerts me to one of the English clan being carried by a buff Canadian into the sunset. Possible trouble here. She tallies forth to check the bona fides/ intent of behemoth and reports back that the Bristol girl has collapsed and Prince Charming has nothing but good intent. I feel the need to confirm the analysis, not from any lack of confidence from a far superior analyst, but from a paternal driver.

Confirming the collapse (straight Lao Lao Whisky will do that), we commandeer a tuk tuk to take all the clan, plus economically geared tubes, back to the Bristols girl’s abode. This proves a journey of discovery. Comatosed Bristol, frantic Bristol (cousin), damaging pot holes, concerned Swiss and Canadians (we have all been here) and attending senior Australians.

Covered in vomit and conversing in monosyllabic tones we nurse the (entire) throng home. Bristol to bed, fellow Bristol along side with care instructions, the rest off to calmative drinks.

We are greeted throughout by: “You guys are soooo cool. Again we are not sure how patronised we feel or they intend. In time, Bristol is starting to communicate in more than one Sylable (although will need supervised care for a day). We are thankful that out new tribe insists on taking us out to dinner. We invite all to our place in Perth to return the favour.

Travel, you got to love it.


We have had the pleasure of great contact with a number of 20 somethings (and some late teens) on this trip. If these are the future custodians of our world, we are in very good hands.

Vang Vieng: Shun City

The centre of town has more bars than a flock of Merinos in the top paddock- and this is tame compared to the past debauchery.

The sordid reputaion of VV competes with its breathtaking beauty. We have experienced the latter with awe and wonder through our hotel window, through the veil of anxiety high in a ballon, riding a tube on a freezing flooded cave labyrinth and kayaking down a winding river. Framed by the Karst mountains and the Nam Sing river this is a beautiful place. The mountains rise like sharp shark fins and lend a sense of the dramatic. The river twists and turns, through rapids and quiet deeper spots and aids and abets the shadowy reputation of this place.

Despite some light being shone, dark shadows remain.

VV had a reputation as the pleasure capital of Asia. It is battling to systematically both retain and lose this brand- an Indian arm wrestle with itself. Hedonism remains the dominant orientation of the invaders. A jarring conjunction with the natural beauty and the polite, ultra conservative, proud, shy and reserved locals.

This clash played out dramatically in 2012. An accident waiting to happened and it did again and again and again, until social responsibility, international exposure and local discomfort won out (in part) against the seductive power of the invader’s lucre.

If the river was the enabler of bacchus’ binge, tubing was the vehicle.

At its peak a horde of 4 hundred hippies, gen X Y and z ( are we up to the end yet, if so do we start again?) and a smattering of others embarked on a journey which had become synonymous with indulgence at best and depravity most frequently. The journey of 4 kilometres lasts at a minimum 2-3 hours up until a life time.

Dotted along the river were numerous bars. The owners like spiders with their silk thread, threw out ropes to drifting tubers to latch hold and be drawn in. Awaiting was a dizzying mix of free shots, (literally) buckets of alcohol, beer and drugs. I understand ‘shakes’ were available with possible mixes of opium, Methamphetamines, marijuana and alcohol.

30 seems to be the threshold. For after this number of invaders perishing on the river in one year, the authorities acted.

We are advised that the Lao Pres himself visited VV. He assembled all the bar owners and advised them that not only were they to be closed down, but they had to completely destroy all evidence of their enterprises. All without restitution. Only in a centralised one party state. Through some greasing of the Palms a few were granted “license” to continue.

We visited one today.

What fun!

If the river is the enabler and tubes the vehicle, then “beer” pong the gold medal event. In a rustic setting of boards, clinging to the river bank, on bare earth and slippery water surfaces, a rickety bar served novel concoctions (at least to us) accompanied to deafening doof doof music. Challenges were made, victories scored and hangovers accrued on the field of beer pong. Feeling my age and ignorance and despite great curiosity, I bat away offers to compete and chose to spectate the carnage.

Beer pong involves cups of agreed products at each end of a table and respective teams armed with ping pong balls. The object is to get ones balls in another’s drink, at which the opponents drinks up. The game ends when cups and opponents are obliterated.

I must say, despite the most intense competition (including lured sledging), the thronging mass of unclad pressed bodies and the obvious consequence of the game, everything was played in excellent spirit.

For today we were in an organised tour and therefore time poor. Our group assembles, mostly noisy entertaining Koreans, and departs the solitary bar we are to visit to Kayak on. We pass dazed, dozing, dangling and dapper tubers. Some handing out cigarettes with a sweet aroma.

We plan our own tubing extravaganza over the next couple of days, but it is unlikely we will visit all the remaining bars, try the smorgasbord on offer or even engage in the ritual sporting events. Because my travel companion and I are in our 6th decade (baby boomers is however a title we are trying to live up to); being stamina retarded; and having lived a sheltered existence which narrows experimentation, we plan to have one hell of a time. Even if it is gratuitous.

When in Rome, watch the Romans.


(Yet) Another winding Road

On reflection, I have used the title in a number of travel posts. Curious. 

The semi- conscious becomes front of mind on a 7 hour rugged mountain terrain epic trip from Luang Prabang to Asia’s party capital, Vang Vieng (I look forward to report more on this place to see if the myth matches the reality). The expression of the title becomes a metaphor a descriptor, an experience, a rationalisation….. Maybe even an aspiration.

We are made aware of the discomforts that  awaits (beckons even) when planning the trip. Travel logs and individual travellers we encounter offer stern onerous warnings of the significance of length and discomfort. They provide reminders (to be stored away in order to aid personal post hoc rationalisation) that this is an impoverished third world country,  with third world infrastructure .

Mental models of what results are helpful, but frankly fundamentally incomplete. The gap is only filled by experience, infused by the traveller’s individual philosophy and “aids”. How these are manifested vary exactly by the sum of 20- the souls who share a cramped tin, steel, plastic, cloth (I think that is what it is) and glass confine. A bus that could vary between a claustrophobic, cringeworthy coffin right up to a luxurious, lumbering liner. Where each soul falls on the spectrum changes according to the immediate experience, applied philosophy and the power of your aids.

I am squeezed in to a seat, old, worn and smelling of past (ass) souls. Their experience layered like a  memory pillow that is able to reach way back and reminding me of far far too much- two layers of clothing does not suffice. So small is the seat that my ears have known the acquaintance of my knees in ways unencountered, uninvited, uncomfortable and uncalled for. At least that is the bodily experience. An experience sharpened by frequent clunks, groans and violent crashes as the chosen vehicle swerves around others; careers around winding narrow dilapidated roads, over plunging drops which spell certain death; and navigates inefficiently  and at best by the narrowest of margins, innumerable pot holes that seem destined to join the size of the beckoning chasms. 

The vehicle’s suspension scream for rest and renewal, paralleling my own.

To the rescue comes a traveller’s philosophy and aids. Each to their own.

Three spanners in the philosophical tool bag- two questionable, the other functional.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

 “The thousand mile journey starts with a single step.”

These trite homilies frankly don’t quite wash the weary road warrier’s wounds. You see the more we travel, the ends and means become one, not separate. Further, a distinct start is as illusionary as a complete stop. It is all one experience. Understanding this and looking to live now helps. This is the functional spanner. More a sonic screwdriver really.

Fear of falling off our precarious precipice becomes a relief , we had actually survived and we wonder at the vista. The pounding bone crunch of the road is replaced by awe of (all) the driver’s skill(s) and how this rickety rust bucket remains intact (it is one with the road). Dehydration because of self imposed trickle feed (to avoid another) becomes anticipation of a stop and wonderful inflow (and out) relief. Bruised and battered bodies a reminder we are blessed to be physically able to do this and perversely chose to do so. The scabby roads and impoverished dwellings we pass bring gratitude of home.

As indicated above, such a transformation can be transitory. It is also not just related to a personal philosophy. It is impacted by each individual’s aids. Such aids are also varied by a factor of 20. For some it appears chemical (in keeping with the destination of this leg).

My “aid” is relayed directly to my soul via Bose headphones purchased on past travel in New York from an Orthodox Jew in a black suit, which begats a stream of knotted white cloth, topped by a black hat, which in turn tops ringlets of hair framing a long black beard. This information may seem gratuitous and irrelevant. It is not! It ties in travel and philosophy. I fantasise this strange little man (strange to me) is looking over my shoulder through time, cap and  curlers  musing: “the pathway to redemption is through suffering” . But I am brought back to earth by another shuddering crash as we hit a crater and realise that this may not be his philosophy, but my projection. Besides he couldn’t fit on this little bus.

My aid is Nicholas  Edward Cave (St Nick). He is my man of mystery, my sage, my holy man, my maker of reason and understanding, my mentor…..and , coupled with my philosophy on this challenging trip, my salvation. 7 hours of acoustic wonder and insight, salving the (otherwise) broken spirit.

“Can you feel my heartbeat?”

I got you Saint Nick, I got you….


Australia Day in Luang Prabang

My travelling companion is doing a cooking class. Off to the pub to watch some tennis for me. Just about exausted the tourist possibilities here.

The pub I chose is the only one that shows the tennis (that I am aware of). It is an “Aussie Pub”. Not my normal refuge, but “any port in a storm”. 

This will be my third day frequenting this abode of strong ‘Strine’, beer, pub grub and sport. I am taken back by the place being “packed to the rafters” ( an Aussie icon of which I yet am to be acquainted). On previous visits I am struck by the sparse custom, safe in my solitude. . ..Tennis in view and beer in hand.

I muse the assembled throng a result of the inclement weather. Bitter cold and rain has been experienced here, the likes of which not encountered for a 100 years. Mind you I doubt there is anyone near that age here- having been killed off in the name of western democracy. It is not until I am greeted warmly with “happy straylyon day mate” that I rethink my hypotheses. 

A curious experience awaits. Navigating across a flimsy bamboo bridge, perched precariously on a rapidly flooding river, joining freezing locals and falangs rugged and with frosted breath in search of sanctuary, I arrive at my chosen destination.

A twenty something with a pierced nose and curiously coloured (technicolor?) hair approaches- she has worn here entire back pack. She resembles a red nosed wombat. In rapid succession I get: 

“Happy Aussie day mate”

“Where you from, I’m from Melbourne? I love Melbourne.”

“How you long here?”

“This is my mate Bruce”

“I’m over here with a great bunch. Mostly Canadians. Fancy that” 

“Have you been to Vang Vieng? Bloody great parties. Party, party, party..of my God”

“What’s your take on Aussie day? I hear there a different views”

My head spins with the wonderful choice of conversation starters she affords. I am also mildly chuffed she would consider me a candidate to exchange party perspectives. Chose I must. Opine I do: 

“Well there are simply two perspectives: a celebration of Nationhood or abject sadness with an invasion”

I’m sure she hears me, at some level…….”you are gunna love Vang Vieng mate, have I introduced you to my mate Bruce”

Inside the pub, a group of seasoned (see old) blokes have started a extremely smoky fire.

“It’ll come good mate. An Aboriginal smoke ceremony is all”.

Happy Australia Day.


UXO: A Tale of Misery

It is bloody freezing here. A cold front has come down (like everything else) from China. People walk the streets draped in blankets. A very odd sight.

Just the right weather to get a glacial bike ride for a few hours of misery and an investment in future nightmares by attending the Unexploded ordinance (UXO) museum. A Misery pock marked (like the landscape) by national embarrassment, international outrage, personal futility and aching empathy.

It is like going to the “school prison” (see unspeakable torture) in Phnom Penh. Tormented souls both living and dead scream at the injustice and agony…..they point accusatory fingers.

I indicated in the last post I thought this poor country was bombed more than all of WW2 together. This horror statistic is right. In fact this is the most bombed country in all history. All for being at the wrong place at the wrong time and not having the right friends.

The Americans (with our backing) waged a secret war against this neutral state. If the magnitude of the bombing wasn’t enough, it was conducted without the controls exercised in Vietnam. Controls such as public outrage and agreements not to bomb near national treasures such as temples (not all that successfully as it turns out). At least in Myanmar their temples stretch back in time, and remain a rally point for beliefs and National pride. Important legacies in Buddhist countries.

The Americans threw absolutely everything at Lao: agent orange, bombs, even detergent to make the Ho Chi Min trail slippery. There are also stories they dropped beer to encourage the Viet Cong to get drunk and stall their supply chain!

The final indignity is both chronic and completely lacking in humanity. It seems so unnecessary.

I can only surmise somewhere a decision has been taken in the US that it is “better public policy” to keep the national head in the sand and hope it will all go away. To contribute might indicate guilt. Besides Lao hardly has the capability to make much of an international noise. Shame, it seems, is manifested by exposure rather than internal standards of whaypt is right.

I have some comfort to assuage an extremely small part of my misery in seeing Austraia is one of the few countries providing aid to clear UXOs. I’m not sure if this continues, or was cut in the recent cutbacks. Japan is there, so too Belguim, Germany and a few others. No United States of America.

The convenience of waging a “forgotten war” extends to restitution.

At current rates it will be another 100 years before the UXOs are cleared. Meanwhile a person dies every day, countless are maimed and a poor country cannot access large tracts of arable land (25% of villages are “contaminated”). Records, as they stand, indicate 50,000 people have been killed or severely injured since 1968 (until 2008). These are more than likely underdone. It is hard to see how a diverse and distributed country, struggling to feed itself, can invest in accurate counting protocols.

Seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of survivors (in videos) is haunting. A must see- albeit different from other must sees.



ps. This is a country poorer than Cambodia. The fickle fingers of fate have dealt both countries a hand that, if there was a choice, they would flee. In contrast with Cambodia, I see more hope and resilience here. This speaks volumes for the people. I, however, think similar forces as to cause recent calamities remain undiluted. I fear for Lao’s future.

Lao. Luang Prabang

We are into our third day here.

It is a journey into the past. Familiar for the most part but different in some. A curfew operates here still after 10 pm.

Joint flags herald Lao and communism (the red hammer and sickle) throughout towns and villages. This is a centralist communist country ever so slowly waking to free market and renewed international forces (they have always had the sad experience of these).

Laos history is closely linked to that of Vietnam, although the differences are marked.

Both previous French colonies, devastated by the Indo-China/American/Vietnam wars: the names vary according to your perspective. Vietnam seems to have bounced appreciably, where Lao’s ball seems to have flattened on impact. Both have Communist totalitarian governments. Vietnam’s appears more progressive. Vietnam has also historically been a conqueror, and during unification a significant influence on Lao. Vietnam assisted in installing the current government, removing the monarchy- the King and queen were sent to a “reeducation” camp- rampant capitalism, knows no equivalent of brand incongruency. The royals perished miserably. I’m not sure if they were more fuller people from the experience (of being educated), but it is unlikely.

I’m no fan of any monarchy (trumped up family businesses of dubious origins, involving both institutionalised corruption and subjugation, with all the ugly downsides of interbreeding) but this mob deserve some sympathy.

They recognised the need for modernisation and opportunities via the French, at some cost. During WW2 they resisted Japanese dominance at considerable cost. Following the war they attempted neutrality in the American War (I think this is the best descriptor), only to have the Vietcong ignore borders and develop supply chains to the south and the yanks carry out unprecedented attacks- more of this later. In the ensuing consequential destabilisation, the royal family split three ways: to the American supported group, the communists and the ultimately doomed sitting neutralists. Sitting on the fence has never been so uncomfortable.

It is harder to think of a country more impacted by forces outside of their control.

The numbers “the secret war” are staggering:

– I read somewhere that more bombs were dropped here than in WW2

– the Americans flew 580,000 bombing missions into this independent country

– this equates to a plane load of bombs every 8 minutes 24 hours a day for 9 years

– this included 270 million cluster bombs, of which 80 million didn’t explode

– and as if to rub salt into deep and festering wounds, between 1999 and 2013 America offered $3.2 million a year to clear unexpoded audinance (UXO) – of which less than 1% have been cleared. The “investment” in putting them there was $13.3 per day!!

Take a moment to read that again and Let it sink in.

I can cut this country a bit of slack. No wonder their ball flattens on impact.

Now more travelogue without the (critically important) political commentary.

Luang Prabang has a feel of Hoi An in Vietnam. Both graceful, both hints of French architecture, both lined with good places to eat and drink, both remarkably preserved given the utter destruction that occurred close by finally, and both UNESCO heritage listed.

Oh! This is a country tied to the mighty Mekong. As if Lao has not suffered enough indignancies from self serving foreign powers, it is about to suffer another as their northern neighbour, the Chinese, plan wholesale damming of this precious lifeblood.

Apologies, for the resort to political commentary. It makes the world go round, or in the case of Lao, the ball go flat.

Spare a thought.